This summer, somewhere on the road between Montana and Dallas, I came across a blog post that shared the latest in toy marketing- “disruption of the pink isle by Goldie Blox”. At the same time, I have been reflecting on the lack of females in technology, physics and engineering and have been wondering at what cost to society? Why is it that nearly half our population not even consider a career in these fields?
I have been lucky in my career to have had a chance to observe many different children interacting in many diverse environments. Recently I had the opportunity to observe several groups of 4 and 5 year old children interact in free play learning environments. These environments were set up in classrooms where there were 5 to 13 different stations where children could select what they wanted to do. I found it interesting that across multiple observations at several different schools, the Lego tables were monopolized by the boys. So much so that when a girl arrived at the table, they quickly left. It was not that the boys were being mean to the girls at the table but likely that their form of play was not interesting to the girls who came to the table. Again, these were 4 and 5 year old boys and girls. Contrast that with the drawing, arts, and craft tables. They were largely occupied by the girls in the group. Now this I find amazing. At the age of 4, children are already identifying with toys and modes of play that are gender biased and follow trends we see in adult life. Toy companies obviously feed this. Now, this would not seem to be much of a problem as we have been doing this for years. However, when toys marketed to boys are linked to building, constructing, open-ended and those marketed to girls define gender stereotypes that society has defined as female, are we surprised that technology and science are dominated by males?
The Goldie Blox are an attempt to “disrupt the pink isle” by bringing toys to girls that have historically been marketed to boys.
While I have yet to see these Goldie Blox, I did run into the following in the “Pink Isle” at Target this past weekend- Lego Friends– and a partnership between NASA and Barbie. Yes, that is correct. Legos with themes and colors that are designed to be attractive to young girls.
Now, before you lay into me about how erector sets, electronic kits and Legos are for both boys and girls…I could not agree more. However, why then, when given options for play, the Lego tables are surrounded by boys and the puppet theater is largely surrounded by girls. This is not because they were told where to go. They have been programmed through play with tacit messaging.
The problems we are facing as a society are real and we need to find answers that will help us to tap into the entire talent pool. Approaching this problem with changes in school curriculums in middle school and high school will have minimal effect when children clearly self identify along gender lines at the earliest ages and toys separated along gender lines are also defined by societal stereotypes.
To add a little more context, I recently read a study that has looked at why the technology and physics worlds are dominated by males and the finding was telling. It came down to role models. Where girls in a region with female role models making their way in these fields, more girls also took technology and physics classes. Where these role models were lacking or less obvious, classes were dominated by males. Clearly this is a complex issue that will take changes on many fronts to equalize representation of genders in these fields. Changes in the way toys are marketed to the youngest of children will have some effect. We must also consider how to make female scientists more prominent among our children.
A Budding Engineer in Training